So you want to buy soba, those slippery, slurpable noodles you have been dreaming of eating in soups for days. However, if you are not exactly sure where to start, do not worry, here are some tips.
First, know the basics: Soba is a Japanese noodle made from buckwheat flour and water, and sometimes a bit of whole-wheat flour to keep the noodles from deteriorating. Making soba by hand is an intensely complicated process that artisans spend years studying. But while the absolute best soba is made in small batches and sold fresh, soba for your weeknight life is readily available at the grocery store.
Then, know what to look for. Generally speaking, buckwheat flour should always be one of the first ingredients on the label, and the list should be relatively short. You are looking for a high ratio of buckwheat flour to whole-wheat flour: Ideally, the noodles will contain around 70–80 percent buckwheat (this is the nihachi-style). Anything containing a higher percentage of buckwheat is prone to falling apart during the cooking process. But too little buckwheat means your noodles will be prone to gumminess and bloating (and they will not be as nutty-tasting).
This ratio of buckwheat to whole-wheat flour can vary widely depending on the brand and variety. But a good rule of thumb is that the larger the percentage of buckwheat in the soba, the darker gray-brown the color will be.
Soba noodles play nicely with creamy sauces and crispy leaves.
Now, cook it carefully. Cook small batches of noodles in lightly salted boiling water right before you’re ready to eat. Soba thrives with space, so make sure to leave ample room for the cooking noodles to swirl around the pot freely so that they don’t tangle into a sticky mess.
The thinner the soba, the faster it will cook. Most soba cooks between 3–5 minutes, never longer, but always follow the cooking instructions on the package of your soba. The best way to prevent things from glomming up is to be hyper-vigilant while cooking. Once you have thrown your noodles into the pot of boiling water, stay stove-side. This is not the time to go grab your phone from another room or daydream. Once a few minutes have passed, pull them out and immediately serve your noodles.
If things do get gummy, drain the noodles, rinse them under cold water, and plunge them into an ice bath. This will stop the cooking process while washing away some of the starch.
Now you are ready to sip and slurp your way to soba-induced bliss. Whether you are twirling these noodles into a delightfully chilled noodle salad or topping it with crispy cubes of tofu, go forth with pride, you soba star you.
Dashi is the sort of super-powered broth that every cook should know how to make. One of the building blocks of Japanese cuisine, the most popular dashi is made from just two ingredients (kombu and katsuobushi a.k.a. bonito flakes) and comes together in fewer than 15 minutes. That makes it the fastest route to a slurp-able, umami-rich broth (with no long simmers or bags of chicken bones necessary). Here, it’s the base of a super savory soup packed with poached shrimp, nutty soba, and tons of greens.
Mistakes to avoid
Whatever you do, don’t cook soba as you would traditional Italian pasta.
Do not salt the water before cooking.
Do not cramp the noodles in the pot; give them enough space and water to move around.
Do not overcook them. They need only about four to five minutes in the water to reach a desired al dente texture.
Finally, in order to avoid the gummy quality that so often befalls so much soba, rinse the noodles immediately after straining them.
This is perhaps the most important step of all. After pouring the noodles into a colander, transfer them to a bowl of cold water and whirl them around. Or simply rinse them under running water. Keep them moving in or under water for a minute or so to remove the excess starch that creates that gummy texture. May your noodles never clump again.